Andrew Stewart

Andrew Stewart

Medicinal Chemistry Major, Andrew Stewart, Lands a Coveted National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program Award

Tell me about the fellowship or scholarship that you either applied for or won?

I applied for the Goldwater, which is a scholarship for undergraduates who show a promising research career. I got an honorable mention, I didn’t win that one. But it was still good to be recognized for research potential.

I also just won the NSF (National Science Foundation) Graduate Research Fellowship, which is awesome because I get to bring my own funding [to graduate school] and I show that I am federally fundable, which is a big thing for postdocs and for getting a job in the future. So, it is very exciting. It also gives me the freedom to just do what I want because I can go to any professor or any lab and say, I’m bringing my own money, so you don’t need to worry about funding me.

What are your research interests?

I’m interested in substance use disorders. Mostly finding novel therapeutics, pharmaceutical therapeutics, particularly psycho-stimulants. [For example,] if you’re addicted to Adderall, cocaine or methamphetamine, there’s just nothing they have that can help you ween off. With drugs like heroin, at least they have methadone and things like that. But with stimulants, there’s nothing like that. Obviously, we also need better drugs for opiates as well — so really both of those. I’ve done mostly cocaine and heroin research.

What sparked your interest in this research?

Well, my brother is a heroin addict. I guess it was one of those things where I thought I didn’t really want to work with it and then I started doing work in it and was like, actually, this is really satisfying.

What do you think set you apart from other applicants?

I think [it helps] that I’ve done research for a long time. I’ve been in a lab for three and a half years now. Every summer has been spent doing some type of research. So, I think I’ve been at this for a while and I think I’m able to fully articulate ideas. In terms of broader impacts, because I have a personal connection to my research, I have a good understanding of where the needs lie.

What are your current academic or career goals?

I really hope for a career in academia, which is a lot to hope for because it is really hard to get a job as a professor. Hopefully, this makes me competitive already, which is good. I think that being able to guide your own research and research what you’re interested in [is important]. A lot of companies let you have your own “pet project” but also say, this is the thing we need you to work on to make money. But to be able to devote all your time to what you want to look at and the questions you want to answer is really unique.

Do you enjoy teaching?

Yeah, definitely. I taught religion as a high schooler and was a coach from my senior year of high school through my sophomore year of college

Who is your biggest inspiration?

In terms of academia, I’m going to the Maze Lab with Ian Maze, where he does some of the most exciting work in the field right now, so obviously he is an inspiration to me. The postdoc in my lab, Craig Warner, is a huge inspiration to me. He’s incredible and a great person.

Personally, my sister is one of my biggest inspirations because she’s always just getting stuff done. I think that kind of pushes me to also get stuff done.

Can you share something you learned through this process and do you have any advice for students who may want to go for these types of awards?

I think the most important lesson I learned is that the application process, whether or not you win the award, is important. It really helps you hone in your ideas and to think logically about what you want. If you can’t think of why you want whatever your goal is — or whatever you’re applying for — then maybe you should reconsider where you’re going and what you’re doing. In terms of the NSF, you need to fully articulate your research and realize the challenges. It helps you really hone in on what type of language you need to use to get your point across and get someone just as excited about your ideas.

Interview with Andrew Stewart conducted on April 20, 2018, by Deanna Buley.